It feels much too early in the year for March’s arrival, and students are reeling. At this point in the semester, Wellesley’s red class seniors are making moves; deadlines for jobs and fellowships are fast-approaching, and on social media, it seems that everyone has a plan.
LinkedIn keeps asking me to congratulate my acquaintances on newly secured finance jobs. My Instagram feed is flooded with carefully filtered study abroad pics; on Twitter, mutuals make sure to tag former internships in their bios. Wellesley’s facade of perfection is not without its critics, however. One student, @tomatofriedegg, tweeted March 1: “if you don’t have anything lined up post-grad rt this so i don’t spiral.” The post has thus far garnered 11 retweets and 24 likes by students who feel similarly worried.
Despite the rare post of graduation anxiety, however, one reality seems to be missing from the popular narrative of what it means to leave college — particularly at Wellesley, but at other institutions, too. Senior spring is an especially difficult and sometimes impossible to enjoy for Wellesley students struggling financially.
General dread at the prospect of graduation is worsened by financial stress, with which many students are familiar by their final spring semester at Wellesley.
College costs money, of course, but Wellesley’s geographic location in one of the most expensive United States districts and its $70,000+ tuition lend to financial inaccessibility throughout students’ time on campus. Students from low-income backgrounds often work dining hall jobs, or take on gruelling minimum wage roles in the Ville for extra income to explore the Boston area, pay tuition or support their families.
Negative interactions with student customers is a common experience for these workers, according to one student who preferred not to reveal their identity. “People pretend not to know you,” the student, a junior, expressed about their time working at the Emporium.
Students facing financial stress may enter ROTC just to get through school, or rely on the Facebook group Free & for Sale for cash, choosing between the occasional vending machine snack or laundry. These sources of income do not come without sacrifices; time in which more privileged peers may spend studying or socializing is instead devoted to just getting by, leading to an overall less enjoyable college experience — affecting academic performance, mental health and virtually every aspect of the student’s life.
For senior spring, the constant search for money means less time to not only participate in senior trips, attend parties off campus and generally socialize with peers, but also less time to apply for the fellowships and jobs so desperately necessary to secure. Normal, fun college pastimes cost money, too; while lack of time is certainly an issue exacerbated by Wellesley’s particular brand of competition and some students’ financial stress, it’s not the only thing holding students back from a good experience. Senior trips can be expensive. Ventures into the city necessitate disposable income. After each student’s semesterly $50 Emporium tab and the 10 p.m. closing of the latest-open dining hall, a casual night studying with friends and ordering food can be for some completely infeasible — especially considering the staggering costs of restaurants in the area.
It can be argued, then, that March is no different from any other month at Wellesley for lower- and middle-class students. How do I enjoy anything — from Wellesley traditions like MarMon or Remix, pastimes like club sports or holiday vacations, to March, senior spring — when I know I am several thousand dollars in debt? And, further, how do I function when I have no idea how to feasibly pay that back within my lifetime? For some, the question is beyond loans: how do I experience college when my family needs financial help? After college, how will I survive?
On the Wellesley College official website, the Class of 2019 First Destination page states: “96 percent of Class of 2019 graduates were employed, accepted to graduate school, participating in a service/volunteer program, or serving in the military within 6 months of graduation.” An infographic below reveals a statistic of 4.07 percent graduates still in flux, “seeking” employment. The identities of reportedly successful students are unclear; the statistic, glaringly positive, does not include what family connections were utilized in securing a job, nor does it reveal the specifics of graduates’ socioeconomic statuses. While the data seems promising compared to the national average — according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2019, 72.3 percent of college graduates found employment — it fails to illuminate what was done and when, and by whom, for each student to secure solid post-grad plans.
Wellesley students working or struggling their way through college face direct academic and post-grad job competition with their peers, 11 percent of whom came from the upper one percent as of 2017, revealed in a locally-viral social media post. While fellowships and grants are available through the College’s Career Education, opportunities are still highly selective. Not every student is guaranteed financial support through such programs, and the anxiety of facing a financially insecure future can be devastating to a student’s wellbeing.
Each destination on the Class of 2019 website comes with certain caveats; grad school costs an astounding amount of money, and former public school students whose GPAs tanked as the result of the College’s former grade deflation policy may not meet tough requirements for application. Volunteering is a privilege, too — students who can barely afford living expenses or face significant student loan debt don’t have the means to participate in such programs, and likely don’t have time to. Seeking employment, or remaining unemployed, is just as exclusive a category; students without financial stability might not be able to afford the luxury of taking a year off to travel, figure out life goals or prioritize mental health — flights cost money, as do hotels and trains and cars — and the opportunity cost of losing a year of paying off debts is astronomical with regards to accruing loan interest. These students need money, now, and have few options but to spend free time after work applying to jobs other, competing students have more access to.
March of senior spring is here, and many of us don’t know what to do — but some of us have the resources to figure it out. While my friends shop at Sweetgreen and cavort around Europe, I’m struggling to figure out how to pay off my unpaid spring tuition and accompanying late fee. All I think about is money, and my household income is solidly middle class; lower income students face similar financial stresses, but on a much greater scale.
Go ahead and fly to New York for that job interview, one percent Wendy. If you’re feeling generous, feel free to come check out the box of clothes for sale outside my bedroom door.